Huck Finn in a Global Classroom, pt 2

by Pattie  Sloan and Joan Flora: Two Teachers Challenging the Status Quo of the Classroom

In Part 1 of this post, we introduced the connection between The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Jim’s nobility, and today’s monstrosity: human trafficking.  In this post, Pattie shares how she facilitates students’ conceptual understanding of the issue and how student gravitate to problem solving.  

For a moment, imagine if students had personal connections to the curriculum we teach.  Imagine if human trafficking in Huck Finn, were more than a picture of  life on the Mississippi in  antebellum South.  And when looking  at the map of modern-day slavery, we quickly realized the human tragedy rather than brushing it off with, “Toto, we are  not in  the deep South anymore!”

lit-classGlobal trafficking is disturbing, but  secretly we are thankful there is not a connection to our lives.

Nicolas Kristof ‘s  article in The NY TimesThe 21st Century Slave Trade, is   tragic, but not personal.

Last week’s post we discussed the fact that 1 out of  1o people in the world is a slave.  Our continent is a haven for human trafficking,  but even hearing the numbers,  we still do not make the connection.  We are quietly thankful because human trafficking always happens “over there” and has nothing to do with us.  We continue on our way.
Moving closer to home, let’s examine Portland, Oregon.  Keith Bickford,  the head of the Oregon Human Trafficking Task Force, met with my students and said that statistically, if three young girls are on the street corner in Portland,
two will be approached by a pimp, and one will actually accept.   And it is not just the marginalized students who are at-risk–it is everyone: young girls and boys.  But we don’t know any of them, so it is a statistic rather than real people.
Even after Keith Bickford’s presentation, I felt distanced from the subject.  Human trafficking is something that happens to other people in other parts of the world, right?  And then my world was changed.
For me, it became personal the day Teri Winegar-Clark, an aide at our school, stepped into my classroom and made me listen to her story.   After she learned of an assembly that my students were planning on human trafficking,  an experience that she buried for 30 years bubbled to the top, and she came to me to tell me her story of being kidnapped and groomed for trafficking in Mexico City, Mexico.  When she came, I was leaving for another meeting (aren’t we always), but she demanded I hear her.   She closed my door, planted herself in front of it and told me her memories that she hadn’t told her family.  It was beyond my comprehension.
Please listen to her amazing story:
When Teri told me her story, clarity of human trafficking became very clear to me.  I had to take whatever action in my power to change things.  My students needed to be aware of human trafficking and protected from it.   Because there was not curriculum for what I wanted and needed to do, I created a three-step program to lead my students into a local and global understanding of modern-day slavery:
Care:   My students have to connect with people to develop empathy 
Securing grants, I bought the books Escape from Slavery and The Road to Lost Innocence, personal narratives of victims of human trafficking.  Deeply moved, the students finished the books in a week-end.  In The Road to Lost Innocence, Somaly Mam, a Cambodian woman who was sold into the sex-trade as a child, tells her story of great sorrow and triumph.  Free from the brothels,  today she rescues and rehabilitates young women who are sold into the trade.  She has been honored throughout the world for her efforts to end the sex-trade in SE Asia.
Francis Bok was a young man from the Dinka tribe in Darfur in what was then southern Sudan.  Bok was captured by the mujahideen when they raided his village.   Sold to Arab families in the North, his is a tale of survival.  He is now a renowned speaker on human trafficking in Africa.


Aware:  Knowledge compels you to tell others   

Dividing my class into teams,  students adopt a different part of the world where slavery occurs:

  • SE Asia
  • United States
  • West  Africa
  • Horn of Africa
  • Eastern Europe
  • Northern Africa
  • South America and Haiti

Through their research, students create a class presentation through a PowerPoint, pamphlet or art piece, and a plan to end the slavery in their area.

Lead Questions:

  • What is the major form of slavery in your area?
  • What societal problems led to this inhumanity?
  • What part of the economy relies on slave trade?
  • What are the working conditions for the slaves in your area?
  • What products are available to us because of this practice?
  • What is being done to end the practice?

We contact organizations that are fighting human trafficking such as The Polaris Project, Oath, and Not For Sale.

We accessed books:

  • Not For Sale by David Batstone
  • In Our Backyard by Nita Belles
  • Free the Children by Craig Kielburger
  • A Crime So Monstrous by E. Benjamin Skinner
  • Take It Personally by Anita Roddick


Dare:  Make a difference!

My students move out of their academic comfort zones and create a plan to help alleviate the human trafficking in an area.  Past plans include:

  • supporting reforestation in Madagascar where the Eden Reforestation Project has almost eradicated human trafficking because women now have jobs and worth.  And since each tree costs a dime to plant, we can impact the area.
  • selling our specially designed t-shirts to free Dinkas held in Sudan
  • speaking at the legislature in support of anti-human trafficking legislation
  • speaking at middle schools to protect the middle school students.
  • supporting the Janus Project in Portland that helps girls caught in the life on the streets

Making education personal creates an environment where the stakes are higher than the next test score.  Caring creates an atmosphere that is charged with possibilities. 

My teaching of Huck Finn radically changed as I realized that there is more to Mark Twain’s brilliance than a river and biting social satire.  Huck Finn is about people and our humanity.


About Teaching it Forward

We are high school language arts teachers in Oregon.
This entry was posted in Education, Huck Finn, human trafficking, Litereacy, Social Action, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Huck Finn in a Global Classroom, pt 2

  1. Kristal LeRoy says:

    please email me! I teach in California

  2. Kristal LeRoy says:

    Anytime that you are available, I can move my schedule around!

  3. We are happy that you found that post valuable. Please send us some dates so we can co-ordinate a visit with you. And thank you!

  4. We would love to talk with you. Could you please give us some dates so we can co-ordinate. And thank you for your enthusiasm.

  5. Kristal LeRoy says:

    I am so excited about these amazing ideas and the connections between Huck Finn and modern day slavery. Please contact me so I can pick your brains!

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